The Editor's Desk

Thoughts on editing for print and digital media

Month: May, 2007

Quoted in style

The practice of bracketing in direct quotes continues to confuse and amuse. Here’s one of the picayune variety:

“Over the last couple [of] years, we’ve had some questions raised over customer etiquette, especially cell phones,” said Regal spokeswoman Karen Lane.

The AP Stylebook does recommend “of” after “couple” in constructions like this one. But the person quoted didn’t say it that way. Should we correct direct quotes to get them to conform to style? If we do, why not go all the way and redo the quote this way:

“During the past couple of years, we’ve had some questions raised about customer etiquette, especially cell phones.”

Getting back to the story, more curiosity follows:

“And … [piracy] is something that’s a big concern within the industry.”

I’m guessing that the bracket here is in place of a pronoun, but what was said between “and” and that insertion? Ellipses always make me wonder what was removed — and why.

This and more bracketing discussion here.

HuffPo and hyphens

The Huffington Post has launched a redesign, and the site’s look and organization have improved. It’s also forged a partnership with Talking Points Memo, the liberal blog that made the firings of the U.S. attorneys a big story.

HuffPo still has problems with other things, however. Some are big — the site’s dangerous use of file photos, for example. Others (as seen in theses examples) are little, and little things don’t get much smaller than the hyphen.

That piece of punctuation can get a good argument going. Stack some words up to modify a noun, and you may need a hyphen. That’s where the debate can begin, but most agree that a hyphen is not needed between an adverb and an adjective. Consider the “-ly” as the glue sticking these words into one idea. Adding a hyphen would be redundant to that task.

For this and previous posts on The Huffington Post, go here.

UPDATE: A Chicago Tribune critic reviews the new Huffington Post, comparing it favorably with Google News.


  • Teresa Weaver, ousted as books editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, is headed to Atlanta magazine. Meanwhile, the paper is on the defensive abouts its arts coverage. And don’t miss Stephen Colbert’s take on the state of book criticism.
  • A reporter for The Los Angeles Times explains why she’s taking the paper’s buyout offer — she’s tired of celebrity news overtaking in-depth reporting on jobs and the economy.
  • The blog at SND Update has started doing reviews of movies about journalism. The most recent review is a look at “Shattered Glass,” which is of special interest to editing types.

Spaced out

Claims to be the “first” or “last” or “most recent” anything should be doublechecked. In the example here, the year for the first shuttle mission should be 1981, not 1962.

The “theme-park-ride” construction also looks awkward, but hyphenation is another issue altogether.

Read and relax

Finally, someone has invented a way to make it easier to enjoy the newspaper when you are multitasking — it’s called the Loo Read. It’s available in broadsheet or tabloid formats.

Link and respond

Some random links and thoughts on each:

ITEM: Democratic candidate John Edwards dismisses the phrase “war on terror” as a “bumper sticker” slogan.

THOUGHTS: Copy editors have been ahead of Edwards on this one. As advocates for specificity, we like narrowly tailored labels, not vague generalizations. “War on terror” has become so overused that it’s an easy target for parody, as the “Borat” movie showed when the titular character told a rodeo crowd: “We support your war of terror.”

ITEM: Star Tribune editor Nancy Barnes discusses reorganization and cutbacks at the Minneapolis paper.

THOUGHTS: I worked with Nancy more than 10 years ago when I was the copy editor in The News & Observer’s bureau in Chapel Hill and she was the assigning editor there. We also worked together later in the Raleigh newsroom. She’s a dedicated editor when it comes to local coverage, but despite her obligatory statements in this interview, she doesn’t think much of national or international news. Also, it would have been nice to see her mention the role of copy editing as newsrooms change.

ITEM: A letter writer wants more coverage of math contests and less about offbeat competitions such as “rock, paper, scissors” tournaments.

THOUGHTS: The reader is asking a lot of a regional paper, albeit increasingly local, to cover events like this. The problem: Math contests are routine and not of tremendous interest to anyone not participating. The solution: Find stories with similar content but have an element of oddity or human interest, such as this one about how geometry and miniature golf intersect.

Bugged by news judgment

Do some newspapers make too much of one of the great cyclical stories, the emergence of the 17-year cicadas? This reporter in Illinois, where the insects are popping up, thinks so.

A magazine article observed

N&O, Observer match-up “a little bit like porcupines mating”

This headline on Romenesko caught my eye for two reasons: the prickly imagery and the fact that I worked at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., off and on for nearly 10 years. I still read the paper every day. When it’s in the news, I notice.

Romenesko linked to this story about the N&O in Charlotte magazine. It argues that the N&O and Charlotte Observer are losing their competitive edges because they are now owned by the same company. The author says it’s better to have the papers as professional adversaries, not teammates. (Editor & Publisher did a similar story last month.)

As a former N&O wire editor, I had felt the informal competition between the paper and The Charlotte Observer. On occasion, the managing editor would ask, “Charlotte had this story on its front page today. Why didn’t you pitch it for ours?” The question sometimes came with that day’s Observer with the story circled in red ink. Other section editors at the N&O got similar questions. The message, politely but pointedly deliverered, was clear: The Charlotte Observer is our rival, and we want to put out a better paper than they do. Don’t worry too much about what Greensboro, Wilmington or Winston-Salem do. Worry about Charlotte.

Now reporters and editors for the Charlotte and Raleigh papers are working together on stories big and small. I’ve noticed this in the bylines in the N&O, where it used to be verboten to run a story with a Charlotte credit line. Now such stories are routine, and double bylines with N&O and Observer reporters are frequent. I was hoping that the magazine article would provide significant insight into the extent of this partnership and what it would mean for readers in North Carolina.

The story, however, falls short. Its main problem is sourcing: The writer never quotes anyone from the Raleigh paper. Sure, it’s Charlotte magazine, but it needs to have voices that go beyond Mecklenburg County. This is a chance for a story to get more local than the E&P article did, but it’s an opportunity lost.

And the best source is right there in the story: John Drescher, the managing editor at the N&O, who previously worked at The Charlotte Observer and at The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. His point of view would be especially interesting here, but it’s nowhere to be found. The magazine did manage to spell his name two different ways in one paragraph — one of several editing gaffes that further undermine the story.

Actual Carlos Santana may not match photo

This cutline describes the person in the center of this photo as Carlos Santana, the star of “Delta Farce” and (presumably) the guitarist known for “Black Magic Woman” and “Smooth.”

Looking at this in my Sunday paper, I wondered why the image of Santana in my mind did not match the image on the page. Had his appearance changed that much, and had he started taking roles in dumb-guy comedies? Something didn’t seem right.

Alas, this correction sets the record straight: The character’s name is Carlos Santana. The
actor is Danny Trejo.

UPDATE: A similar problem strikes Yahoo: That’s Lindsay Lohan in that photo, not Paris Hilton. If we insist on focusing on celebrity news, let’s make sure we identify the characters correctly.


  • In a $17 billion deal of interest to wire editors around the world, Reuters and Thomson are planning to merge.
  • The movie writer at The Salt Lake Tribune says newspapers shouldn’t purge film critics to cut costs.
  • A college paper in Ohio asks readers what they think of alternative story forms.

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 223 other followers